Revenge of the Spammed

Art Reisman


This morning, after spending the customary five to 10 minutes filtering good e-mail from bad e-mail,  I decided I was no longer going to be  a victim of spam. I started thinking of  ways to  counter it.  Something beyond the traditional filtering mechanisms that are just a preventitive defense.  Although not in line with my core beliefs, I wanted to take revenge on spam, make it suffer and feel pain.

The word “virus” in the computer world is always associated with negative connotations. Why is that?  In the natural world, we now know there are good germs and bad germs, invasive species, and beneficial species, etc.

So why can’t we create a good germ for the cyberworld, a germ that would work for us to combat spam?

I think we can.

My first idea is to create a little automated bot that will respond and engage my incoming unsolicited spamming friends into a frivolous black hole of wasted time.

When I install my new tool into my e-mail reader, it will replace the  “spam” button with a new button called “attack” or  “revenge” or maybe something a little less macho and aggressive. I’ll leave the final button name choice to the focus group. Once the button is  pressed the wheels will go in motion,  as my bot comes alive.

For starters,  it will respond with a reasonable non-specific inquiry back to the spammer. (Yes,  I’ll have to be smart and change-up my responses from a vast database so they never know they are talking to a bot.)

For example, Spammer would start with a subject line something like:

” Your Credit Score May Have Been Updated.”

My Bot would respond with:

“Thank you for sending me this information about your services.

Can you kindly send me some more information on your pricing and terms of service.  Also, I will gladly consider buying if you can send me three references from satisfied customers.”

So you see where this is going…

The ultimate goal would be to replicate my tool to the entire world of law-abiding citizens.  I alone could not deter Spammer with my lone bot, but if this idea caught on, spammers would get inundated with time-wasting responses, leading them down a path of slow painful spammer starvation.  They would relentlessly squander all of their energy searching in vain for an actual human response.

I suppose there are  all sorts of flaws in my plan, so don’t ask me for the final commercial version just yet, at least until I have more time to vet the idea and the prototype.

It should be known that there is a precedent in this area.  Back in a time before the Internet, unsolicited phone calls were reaching a peak in the early 1990’s. I was actually involved as an arms supplier in this  previous war.  I was the system architect for AT&T’s  business class inbound call answering servers. In the wrong hands, these servers could also be used for robotic outbound dialing.

We had labs set up where we could direct our calling servers to make 1000’s of calls an hour, using 128 phone lines.  Normally a test set up involved having two servers call each other to create a load. One machine would call the other, and once the call was established, talking bots on each machine would engage each other ad nauseam,  in a dance of prompts and automated touch tone responses.

In one case we (I)  fat-fingered an internal number in the outbound calling program. The end result was that I  caused  a  test machine to call out to a real phone, a colleague of mine, rendering his phone completely useless for a half day. I became  sort of folk hero within the group when I boldly admitted my mistake and took credit for it.

The urban legend of the time, and people swore this story was true, was that some tech working at one of the AT&T resellers took one of our boxes and turned it on any unsolicited business caller with a little message script that would go start by saying,

“hello, I am an automated customer ” and then would ask them a bunch of questions about their business and hang up.

He would direct 64 calls at time into the business call center tying up all their agents.

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